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Sawyer's story

Seventeen-year-old Sawyer was having a bad day at school. Seeing this, a teacher’s aide named Len Bennet comforted him and invited him to drop round to his house that afternoon. It was the 1990s and Sawyer was a student at a school for kids with intellectual disabilities.

Once Sawyer arrived at Bennet’s house, Bennet locked him inside and undressed. Sawyer tried to get away but Bennet fought him and then sexually abused him.

‘I trusted him’, Sawyer told the Commissioner, ‘and I couldn’t say no to him because he was in authority … If I said no to him I was worried I might get in trouble’.

A few days later Sawyer told his dad what had happened. Sawyer’s dad, Philip, and his mum, Rachel, both attended the Royal Commission session with Sawyer. Philip said that when he first heard the story from Sawyer he didn’t know whether to believe it or how to respond. ‘We were concerned about taking it too far without knowing the truth’, he said.

Philip and Rachel have always regretted the way they first responded to Sawyer’s disclosure, and Philip is particularly critical of himself. But it was a confusing time for them both, and once they’d gotten over their initial shock they did believe Sawyer’s story and did try to help him. Unfortunately, they didn’t receive the best advice.

‘I actually asked someone in the disability field what we should do’, Rachel said. ‘And they said “Oh, don’t go to the police because it will be his word against the person and he won’t be able to do anything”. In hindsight, that was the wrong advice.’

Around this time, Sawyer decided to take matters into his own hands. He spent several nights standing in the street outside Bennet’s house, shouting about what Bennet had done to him.

Sawyer said: ‘The reason I was going down there, yelling outside his house was because I was angry because he did the wrong thing by me. Because I said to Mum and Dad the reason I was yelling outside his house, having a go at him, is because it really frightened me’.

Bennet reported Sawyer to the school headmaster who then called Philip in for a meeting. When Philip arrived there were two people in the room: the headmaster and another teacher. Later, towards the end of the meeting, Bennet turned up. Neither Bennet nor the two teachers were interested in discussing the truth of the allegations.

‘They said they didn’t want me to say anything about what it was all about’, Philip said. ‘Didn’t want me to mention it, but could I do something about Sawyer. Nothing had changed. We still weren’t going to go anywhere with it.’

Philip told them he’d see what he could do, and left. After that, Sawyer stopped visiting Bennet’s street. In fact, he stopped leaving the house altogether.

Sawyer said:‘I used to go and be really happy, before that happened. Then, after it happened and that, I wouldn’t go outside – only as far as the letterbox, because I was terrified to go any further’.

Eventually Sawyer’s parents took him to see a counsellor. Sawyer has seen many of them over the years. Two of his counsellors encouraged him to report Bennet to police, and Sawyer has done so twice. Unfortunately, on both occasions the police said they weren’t able to pursue a case against Bennet. Still, Sawyer was glad he spoke to the police.

‘I was really happy with the way they treated me’, he said. ‘They were very nice and polite to me.’

He was particularly pleased to hear them say that if he had any more issues with Bennet, he could call them straightaway. This was reassuring for Sawyer because lately he’s been running into Bennet around the neighbourhood.

‘He’s brought all this back up again’, Sawyer said. ‘At home I yell and get upset about it, and it’s taken a long while, I’m still not over it, but I get upset at home and yell and rave around the house and get really upset.’

Sawyer said that out on the streets or at the shops Bennet sometimes stares at him. One time Bennet spoke to him. ‘He said, “I’m dying, got high blood pressure”, and he was trying to take advantage of me again.’ Recently, however, Bennet looked the other way when Sawyer spotted him. ‘Because’, Sawyer said, ‘he knows he’s guilty’.

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